Jul 21, 2009

Marines Find And Destroy Chemical Cache In Afghanistan

Marines Find And Destroy Chemical Cache In Afghanistan
CNN Newsroom, 11:00 AM
July 20, 2009

TONY HARRIS: U.S. Marines in Afghanistan have found and destroyed a cache of chemicals used to make heroin and explosive devices.

Our Ivan Watson is embedded with the U.S. Marines in Helmand Province, and he has an exclusive look at what is going on.

Ivan, my under! standing is that you were on patrol with the Marines. Explain to us in greater detail what they found.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Tony, I'm with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, part of a force of some 4,000 Marines that earlier this month launched into Taliban-controlled parts of this turbulent Helmand Province, considered by some the opium capital of the world. This is one of the largest U.S. military operations since this war began nearly eight years ago.

And let's take a look at what we got during an operation last night into a bazaar very close to where I'm standing right now, Tony.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WATSON: Right now, the Marines back here are rigging these chemicals with explosives -- C-4 plastic explosives. You can see them getting ready for what will be a controlled explosion in a couple of hours.

Now the reason for this, the reason that these C-4 plastic explosives were being placed here, is because these chemicals ! are believed to be used to process heroin. More than 90 percent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan, and a bulk of that comes from this very province in southern Afghanistan which has not really been under the control of the Afghan central government in years.

Part of the reason why this operation over the course of this month is such a big deal is because the Marines have moved into areas where the Taliban have been able to operate freely, where drug cartels have been able to operate freely in the fields around this town where we're located right now. You can see miles of poppy fields growing there where the heroin is then later produced, using some of these chemicals. In addition to this, the Marines have found chemicals used for improvised explosive devices, these deadly weapons that have helped make this the bloodiest month yet for NATO forces in Afghanistan. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WATSON: And Tony, sure enough, before dawn this morning, we did see that controlled explosion, a massive ball of flame, and a chemical fire that t! hen burned for the better part of an hour from this very simple mud brick marketplace not too far from the border with Pakistan -- Tony.

HARRIS: Boy, that's pretty dramatic video there.

Ivan, you were with the Marines in the same province last summer. Has anything changed since then?

WATSON: Well, it's interesting, Tony. I was with a smaller force of Marines probably 25 miles north of here. They had moved in last summer in similar conditions to try to cut off the flow of Taliban weapons and fighters from Pakistan north, and to try to do something to block the flow of narcotics south -- the export -- some of which we believe the money is used to help fund the insurgency.

And the Marines promised to rebuild here. They said that there were going to be efforts to bring the Afghan central government. But right now what we're seeing is that a year later, Marines are fighting battles in some of those same villages that I was in last year.

It shows how! deeply rooted and entrenched the insurgency is here. And it also show s that the promises to rebuild after military offensive are very difficult to fulfill.

We'll see what happens after this offensive, Tony. Definitely, there are far more American and British soldiers this time around -- Tony.

HARRIS: Well, clearing is one thing. Holding is a far different proposition. Ivan Watson for us in Helmand Province. Ivan, appreciate it. Thank you.

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